Of Stewards and Rangers
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Phrygian Flute, The: 6. A Dream and a Journey - Part 3
Through Rohan over fen and field where the long grass grows
The West Wind comes walking, and about the walls it goes.
‘What news from the West, O wandering wind, do you bring to me tonight?
Have you seen Boromir the Tall by moon or by starlight?’
‘I saw him ride over seven streams, over waters wide and grey;
I saw him walk in empty lands, until he passed away
Into the shadows of the North. I saw him then no more.
The North Wind may have heard the horn of the son of Denethor.’
‘O Boromir! From the high walls westward I looked afar,
But you came not from the empty lands where no men are.’
The Departure of Boromir
~ The Two Towers -
Minas Tirith, 14 July 3018
A MAN WAS waiting for him under the high shadowed curve of the great gate’s arch. He had the air of one who had been waiting patiently for a very long time, leaning easily against the cool stone with the bridle through his arm, his tall grey mare nuzzling at his shoulder. The dawn light, warming the white walls of the City to the colour of flame did not touch them, and they reminded him of a smoke-darkened tapestry he had seen once in the Hall of Theoden King at Edoras; a man and his horse, with a hunting horn at his side and a tall spear in his hand.
As he drew up, the Guard, in their black livery clashed to arms, and the man looked up, smiling faintly. “Greetings, brother. You look like a king, with the sun behind you and your long shadow before. If only your men could see you - it is almost as though Elendil the Tall walked among us again.”
Suddenly he felt a great weight lifted off his shoulders. Relief, and for an instant the joy of finding again a thing once lost. Laughing, Boromir said, “Almost, but not quite, I fear.” Then the laughter faded. “I was afraid you would not come.”
“How could I not?” And swinging into the saddle, he said, “I will ride with you as far as the Glanhir.”
Swiftly, his eyes took in what they had missed before, the journey-gear on the mare’s back, the old travelling cloak on his brother’s shoulders and the long sword at his side. “But that is two days’ journey! Does Father know? What does the Warden say?”
“Does it matter?” Faramir asked. There was an odd look in his face, hot colour rising in his cheeks. “No, wait, Boromir - do not send me away. I have leave to return to Ithilien.” Then, as the flush faded; a smile that did not touch his eyes. “I am cleared for action, shall we say, so what is a mere two-days’ ride?”
“Have I ever given you cause to doubt my word?”
A long pause. He had not realised then how thin his brother had become; but now, he saw with painful clarity, the unfamiliar sharpness in his face, and cold, deep shadows like bruises under his eyes. Yet the fire was there, burning still.
Then, laying a gentle hand on the other’s shoulder, Boromir answered softly, “No, never. Come with me then. It is long since we journeyed together.”
The heavy gate swung open, and they rode out of it, their hair and the manes of their horses streaming in the dawn wind, the long green grass of the Pelennor waving as they passed. Behind them, the gate boomed shut, and Boromir, turning in his saddle, saw the fluttering standards of his father’s House glimmer gold against the great blue dome of sky, and the White City and the Mindolluin soaring above her, glowing in the young sun. Then, with a deep breath he set his spurs to his horse, and he was away.
For leagues, they rode in companionable silence, in the shade of the tall mountains that were brother and sister to the Mindolluin, and before them always the endless plains rolling north and west into the land once called Calenardhon that Cirion gave to Eorl the Young so long ago. His brother, riding with easy grace, had a look about him that was almost contentment, the sun bright on his hair, the lines of care smoothed from his brow. How long had it been since he had seen his brother at peace? Memory eluded him, but it did not matter; there were times that it was not good to remember too closely.
“Why do you look at me so?”
“It is nothing,” Boromir smiled. “I was only thinking of our wager in Osgiliath.”
“Well,” said Faramir, laughing, “You owe me a new cloak, brother.”
“Do I? Let you prove it then!” Without warning, Boromir swung to his left. The plunging horses crashed together, and his hard warrior’s hands aiming for his brother’s throat found empty air as slender fingers, quick and strong as his own closed on his wrists. With a cry and a single swift movement, Boromir twisted away and lunged once more. Again, they clashed, fist against fist, pitting strength against strength, but Faramir, seizing his arm, dragged him half out of his saddle, and for the space of a single heartbeat, he was dangling uncomfortably close to the ground, with the long grass whipping his face, and the horses’ hooves thundering in his ears.
“Do you yield?” cried a voice above him, and looking up into Faramir’s dancing eyes, he yelled, “No!” And catching Faramir’s arm, hauled himself upright once more. This time, he did not let go. Breathlessly, they struggled shoulder to shoulder, neither gaining on the other, until Boromir thrust the other away, laughing. “You are a tenacious one indeed, little brother. It is a draw then!”
And they reined in, panting and grinning at each other like fools. “A draw?” said Faramir at last, when he had his breath back again. “No, Boromir. I will have the cloak you promised me - you shall not escape so easily.”
Folding his arms in mock despair, Boromir leaned over his mount. “Well, what will you have then?”
“And what would that be?”
“Race me to yonder yew tree.” Following his brother’s gaze, he saw, perhaps ten bowshots away, swimming a little in the heat-haze, a tall yew on a hill, spreading its green leaves in the summer sun. A long low bough, like an outstretched arm shimmered in the warm air. “First man to that branch wins.”
“On my word then. Ride!”
As one, they sprang away. For what seemed an eternity they raced neck and neck, sods flying in their wake, and the grass parting before them as the sea parts before the prow of a ship. Then, Boromir’s bay with her longer stride began to pull away. “On, brave heart! On!” he cried. She was half a length ahead now, her long mane flying in the wind, and he felt for all in the world like an arrow flighting from its bow, a strange exhilarating freedom that was in the cool rushing air and the pounding of hooves.
Half way there, and he was a whole length ahead; and turning back, he saw his brother crouched low in the saddle, urging on his grey with his voice and knee. And little by little he was gaining. “On, beautiful one, on!” Boromir cried, and gave her the lead. She was a willing beast, and the bending grass swept by faster than ever; dark earth clods spun away from her plunging hooves, and not far ahead, he saw the great yew looming against the brilliant sky.
He was suddenly aware of the grey drawing up beside him, and there was his wild-eyed brother, laughing like a boy. He had almost forgotten how skilled a rider Faramir was. They were so near now, so near that Boromir could see each green leaf quivering on the low branch that was their winning post; neck and neck now, the nodding heads and flying manes level. And then the grey streaked ahead, and he saw Faramir rising gracefully in his stirrups, and his hand reaching for the green branch.
And so it was over. For an instant, disappointment and something that was almost resentment smouldered within him; but when he saw the look in his young brother’s eyes, he smiled and knew then that he would have gladly lost a thousand races for this one shining moment. Gently the grey eased up beside his own heaving mount, and Faramir, looking up at him with laughter lingering about him still, took his reins as he dropped from the saddle.
“Well?” he demanded.
“That was hardly fair, little brother. You have hollow bones like a bird, and I have twice your weight. I demand another challenge!”
“Well, let you name it then!” Mirth, and a flush of excitement in Faramir’s cheeks, and for the space of a heartbeat, he again saw the boy within the man.
“I choose the sword.”
“The sword it shall be.” They turned the horses loose to graze and cool themselves a little; and together, the brothers found a patch of level ground not far away where the grass grew thick and soft and the stones were few. The sun was high and bright, and in the distance, they could still see the White City, and the great mountains that were her silent guardians.
He had never liked fighting left handed men, for they struck in all the wrong places. But Faramir was his brother, and he knew all the old tricks and feints he had used as a boy; Faramir the light-footed, with a wiry strength and grace that was all his own. Only they were not boys now. And suddenly his heart was heavy with a great sorrow; a sorrow for things lost beyond finding again, for things that are that never should be.
But now was no time for memory or regret. His brother’s sword licked out like a serpent’s tongue, quicker and deadlier than he remembered it. He dodged, and the shining blade shaved by with less than a finger’s breadth to spare; instantly he struck back, but Faramir was already beyond reach. Laughing, Boromir cried across the space between them, “You have learnt your lessons well, little brother!”
“I had a good tutor.”
And so the wary circling started, each man watching the other’s eyes, sunlight running on their swords like water. There was a familiar singing in his blood, a hot sharpness in everything he saw, and over all, the joyful edge that always came to him in battle. And he moved, although he did not know it, with such lightness and grace and beauty that his brother, watching with narrowed eyes wondered, and knew that it was the beauty that comes of a thing’s absolute fitness for the purpose for which it is made - a bird winging over sea, a fish darting in a stream, Boromir with his blade.
He was unexpectedly fast for a big man. Swinging, his sword carved a half-circle of light in the blue air, clashed on steel, and then rang again and again. He drove his brother back and back, as a storm-wind drives the rain before it, and Faramir gave ground, a deep line growing between his brows. His movements were sluggish, as though strength and skill had deserted him, wielding his sword as though it had grown too heavy for his hand.
It would be so easy to disarm him; he had only to sweep in, and with a twist of the blade, send the other’s flying. But quite suddenly, Faramir lunged under his guard, his sword flickering like lightning; but Boromir lifted his arm, swaying sideways, and the blade passed harmlessly by.
“So, that was a pretty trick!”
“Was it? Then you shall have a bag of them!”
Then came the rasp of steel against steel, a flurry of sword-strokes before they sprang apart, panting, and wary circling began again. Sweat ran into his eyes, stinging. With a fierce joy, they engaged again, deadly and swift, their steps intricate as a dance; each blow jarring the sword-arm and all the while the war-hammering of blood in their ears. His brother was true to his word; and Boromir, scarcely breathing, found himself watching always for a feint or a ruse, and it took all his skill to parry the odd-angled blows, the unexpected cuts that leapt in out of nowhere.
It still surprised him to find under Faramir’s gentleness and learning a hard ruthlessness, and at times, a single-minded determination to follow no man’s will but his own. Obstinate, unbiddable, wilful, his father had once called him. He leapt back, gasping as a bright blade hissed overhead. How strange it was that neither of them saw how like each was to the other.
He took his chance when it came. It was an old trick, but it worked well enough. He flung out his arm, and as Faramir’s eyes followed its arc, launched himself into the air. They went down together in a roaring tangle, and somehow, as they thrashed about in the long grass, he found his brother’s sword hand, and with a single swift movement, twisted the blade out of it. But Faramir was a fighter, and he took several shrewd blows before he had the other squarely pinned to the ground.
“So, this round is mine!”
Pale accusing eyes looked up into his own. “That was no duel.”
“No,” he admitted, smiling. “But you fight like an Easterling. All trickery and quickness and cunning. Whatever happened to honest, old-fashioned sword-work?”
“In Ithilien, we must fight with whatever weapons that come to us,” Faramir said, with irony. “There are things worth the learning, even from the Easterlings.” Mirth now, behind the twitching lips. “Leave off me, brother; truly, you are heavier than an oliphaunt.”
“You begin to sound like Father.” Lazily, Boromir flung himself onto the grass, flattened by their wrestling, and watched his brother dust himself off, slowly hunting for his sword. Yet there was an odd stiffness in the way Faramir moved, the careful clumsiness of a wounded man. Then came a sharp intake of breath, swiftly suppressed. His sharp eye caught the sudden betraying movement of hand to shoulder, and in an instant, he was up again.
“Brother, have I hurt you?” A stab of fear in his heart.
“Nay, it is nothing.”
Laying a hand on his brother’s brow, Boromir said softly, “Must you lie to me even now? You are cold, and you tremble like a man with the marsh fever.” And cursing, he cried, “Oh fool that I am! I have been over rough with you.”
A hand, quite steady now, fended off his own. “The Enemy would have been far less gentle. Am I not fit for Ithilien after all? Boromir, I know myself - this is nothing a moment’s rest will not cure, and there are other wounds that neither time nor age nor even -” And quite suddenly, he broke off and fell silent.
And so Boromir knew that he must ask no more. For a time, they did not speak; the sun passed behind a cloud, and all around the tall grass shadows trembled and nodded and whispered as though the breeze herself had breathed life into them. But they alone were unmoving, an island of shadow and stillness under the shifting sky. Then he heard the quiet desolation in his brother’s voice.
“Why, Boromir, why have you have taken yourself away from us both?”
The question shook him; yet he knew must answer it. For a long while, he said nothing. His mouth was suddenly dry, as though he were a boy caught stealing. Then shame and anger receded, and slowly, he said, "I must go, for your good as well as mine. Do you understand?"
"I thought I did," Faramir answered, looking up. He seemed a stranger, pale and remote with his sword across his knees, his hair honey-brown in the shadows. "But I am not sure now. Do you speak your mind, my brother. I have had enough of riddles."
“He does not know your worth. Do not return to Ithilien; stay with him and take my place as Captain of the White Tower until I return. Why do you shake your head so? It is not too late. Think, brother! This is your chance to show him what you are, and all you might one day be!"
“All I might one day be,” Faramir said broodingly. Clear as a mirror, the blade of his sword showed him his own face, cold and quiet and inscrutable. Yet it had not always been so. How long had it taken him to learn to banish the betraying signs of thought and expression, to tame the tell-tale lines of joy, anger and sorrow? Too long, yet not long enough.
“You could.” Above his own, another face crowding out the pale reflected sky. A determined chin, a mouth winged with laugher lines under a sharp nose; the eyes grey and kindly in the shadow of brown level brows - so like his own, yet so very different.
I could never be you.
Carefully, Faramir laid his sword down, so that it only mirrored the green grass with their corn-yellow flowers. "You would have me supplant you?" A sudden glint of laughter in his dark eyes. “You would do that, for me?”
“That, and more,” Boromir said firmly. “It is a price I would gladly pay.”
Then Faramir was grave again, "It is not one that I would accept; nor I think, would he suffer it. You are heart of his heart, marrow of his marrow; his own true son. You belong here, with him. And I ...sometimes…” he hesitated, fumbling for the words that would not come; words buried for so long that they came with a cruel wrench of the heart. “There are times that I do not know where I belong, or what I am, save that I am your brother, and that I have your love.”
"That you will have always. But listen, little brother. We spoke of many things last night, father and I. But most of all, we spoke of you.” Looking up from the long grass-stem he had been twisting between his fingers, Boromir saw how his brother stilled suddenly, how eagerness and dread marked his brow before instinct smoothed both away into careful blandness.
“Father told me what he said to you, under the old oak tree… and how he repented of it afterwards.” The slender blade, crushed and bleeding where green sap had run from its wounds stained his fingers. Carelessly he flung it away, and noted how his brother’s quick dark eyes followed it. “It was no easy thing. Do try to forgive him, for he loves you too, in his own way.”
"Does he?" And for a moment, Faramir looked away. “There is nothing to forgive. The wrong was mine after all, that I live and she is dead,” he said tonelessly. “Do not look at me so, Boromir. I have known this for a long while now.” And his voice was low, so low that it seemed that he spoke only to himself. “I would have gone. Then I would have been free, at least for a little while. And so would he.”
"But you are hurt,” Boromir said patiently. “This journey is not for you. I should not forgive myself if you perished in the attempt."
“Oh, I think I should do well enough in the wilds. After all, have I not spent twenty years in Ithilien?” And he smiled; a small wry smile with the winter’s chill in it. “Death comes to all men. Does the where and when of it matter so?”
“It does, to me,” Boromir said resolutely. “I would not have you hurt, not by him or any other; I would not have you throw away your life thus. I know what lies in your heart little brother.”
Incredulity crossed his brother’s face; then came the enigmatic half-smile he had always found so intriguing. “I was not intending to kill myself, if that was what you were thinking. At least, not deliberately.”
“Not deliberately?” Boromir could not help laughing then.
“No, not deliberately. It is the truth, whether you would believe it or no.”
“Even if it were not, I think you would not tell me.” Then he was sober again. Between thumb and forefinger, a slender blade of grass trembled, vividly veined in the sun. How straight and beautiful it was; just like a spear-shaft, yet so much weaker. He could snap it so easily now with his hand, this graceful fragile thing that bent with the breeze, as a spear could not. Smiling almost to himself, he let it go, and watched it springing back to its windy dance.
Gently, Boromir said, "Brother, let you speak your mind, on this day of all days. Do you hate me?"
And he saw how his brother stilled, suddenly. "Hate?" Faramir said, as though he were tasting the word on his tongue. Very deliberately, he slid his sword back into its worn scabbard. The leather was warm from the sun, smooth and darkened with age where it was not scored with old battle-scars. Almost idly, his light fingers began tracing the graceful tooled lines of sea and a single swan-ship riding its curling waves. "No...I do not, though I came close to it then. No, I could never hate you. I should not be here else.”
“That is good to hear, at all events.” So, he understood at last, the look in his brother's eyes, on the night that the wine had spilt like blood on stone.
For a moment, Faramir looked up, and his restless hands ceased their moving. “Did our father tell you why he would send you to Rivendell and not me?"
“He did. But that is a matter between him and I.”
“And will you not tell me?”
Man and boy he had found it no easy thing to turn his brother away. With a deep breath, Boromir said, “No, just as I would not speak to him of the things that pass between us, that are not for his ears. Therefore, I beg you, little brother, do not ask me again.”
“A hard thing it is to keep faith with the both of us, when the keeping of one so often means the breaking of the other. Very well then, I will not ask again.” A pause; their eyes met, and Boromir saw in his brother’s weary gaze pity and compassion. Softly, he said, “I think I know now why you claimed this journey for your own, and I … I do not begrudge it.”
“Do you? Then we understand each other.” With a smile, Boromir leapt to his feet. “Take my hand. Up, O lazy one, or I shall never get to Rivendell. We have tarried too long here, for I smell thunder in the air.”
In silence, they walked back up the gentle wind-ruffled hill where the horses were tethered under the shivering leaves of the old yew tree. And on the crest of it, Boromir turned and looked long at the White City, as a man looks his last upon a thing greatly beloved. Cradled by the green earth and a yellow sky rapidly darkening with rain, Minas Tirith glittered, tiny and bright in the distance, like a jewel in its setting. For a moment, Boromir closed his eyes; it seemed to him that he had only to reach out and take it, and hold it safe always and always in the palm of his hand. And so intense was the longing in his heart that he was surprised, when he opened his eyes again, to find that his fingers had closed upon nothing more than summer air.
Gravely, he said, “I leave in your keeping all that I hold dear.”
“All will be safe with me. On that you have my word.”
As they rode away, down the other side of the low green hill, the White City vanished from sight at last, and only the greying mountains remained, keeping their long silent vigil.
And from the East, came the faint rumble of thunder.
* * *
THE RAIN-WASHED afternoon passed into a flaming twilight, and in the deepening night that was the deep purple of bell heather on the moors, rose the star of Earendil to light the way into the Uttermost West for all those who could yet sail the straight road beyond the bent world. In a quiet sheltered vale, the brothers lit a fire to warm themselves and take what rest they could, and through the chill star-lit summer night that passed all too briefly, they spoke of many things, past, present and in time to come, forsaking rest and sleep. And often Boromir’s laughter rang in the leaping fire-lit dark, and at times, their voices joined in song, until the sun’s golden shield-rim rose in the eastern sky. But what they spoke of that night, no man ever knew, for Boromir told no one, and nor did his brother, in the long years that came after.
And with the morning, came the journey; and the dew drops that glistened like golden mead on rose-coloured grass. West they rode still, the deep silent mountains to the south, drawing closer with each league to their long parting. And all too soon, they saw a black ribbon of water springing from a crack in the mountain face, tumbling down and down into a burbling stream that became a river fringed by rushes and drooping alder trees, flowing its long way North into the land of the Horse-Lords.
For a time, neither spoke, for what was there to say at such a time as this? They came at last to a narrow ford where the dark waters flowed less deeply and swiftly, and the bank less steep than it was elsewhere.
Then, Boromir turned to his brother. “The journey is mine alone now, for you may come no further.” And Faramir returned his gaze steadily, and for a brief moment the old defiance blazed back at him. Then, with a sigh, he slid from the saddle and without words, took the reins from Boromir. Together, they crossed the marshy ground sloping down to the ford, where grass gave way to reeds and the knotted snarls of alder roots grew thick upon the ground until they stood at last at the very edge of the sodden bank.
Gravely, Faramir looked up and laid a hand on his brother’s knee. “May the Valar keep you. May they keep you always.”
Smiling, Boromir said, “No need for the always and always, little brother. Why, I shall be home before the spring, you shall hear the Horn of Gondor sounding across wood and water and vale!” And throwing back his head, he blew three mighty blasts, so that the mountains flaming now with the morning’s golden light caught the sound of it and tossed the echoes ringing back and forth among them, as though it were the ringing of the victory trumpets of Valinor.
“Aye, my brother, and assuredly nothing will bring me greater joy,” said Faramir, leaning back and laughing. “But do you cease your blowing now, or you will bring the Enemy upon us.”
“Let them come, then! We will fight them, you and I, and none shall stand against us!” For a while and a while, the brothers lingered in the sun, with merriment in their eyes and lightness in their hearts, as though the weight of all the world had fallen away, and nothing mattered; nothing, save this one glittering moment.
Then the wind rose, and all around them the tall reeds shivered, and the echoes faded like a dream. And the dark waters of the Glanhir, gurgling and bubbling over rock and twisting alder root seemed to wash away the day’s mirth with it.
Neither of them spoke. A slender branch, white-blossomed and still crowned with green swept by, borne away on the swirling stream on its long northern journey. Then Faramir said in a rush, “I would come with you on this hunting, brother; I would come with you to whatever end.”
“I know,” said Boromir quietly, looking long into the other’s upturned face. Love there was, longing, and sorrow also. And for an instant, he would have said, “Come with me, and we will do this thing together,” yet he caught the words back with a little lurch of the heart, as a man catches back a spear that has not yet left his hand. “But this hunting trail is one I must ride alone. Stay, little brother, and do your duty, as I shall do mine. We will meet again before long - that I promise you.” And stooping, he laid his hands on his brother’s shoulders and kissed his brow.
So Boromir turned away, and swinging his mare round, slid down shallow bank and into the ford; and the white wings of water rose, splashing, the drops of it not black but jewel-bright in the sun. Then river and rush gave way to tall grass, its corn-coloured flowering spearheads waving in the wind; before him were the great plains of Calenardhon and three days away, perched on its high hill like an eagle’s eyrie, was the golden hall of Meduseld. And beyond it, Rivendell. Suddenly he felt a thrill in his blood, as though he had heard in his heart the wild singing of a battle-song.
He did not look back.
And on the other bank, bright eyes narrowed against the sun, his brother stood watching, long after man and horse, shimmering like a dream, dwindled to a dark spot against the brilliant sky. Softly, he spoke into the windy silence:
“Go, dear brother and do your duty, as I will do mine. Go, with peace in your heart, for we shall do well enough, father and I.”
* * *
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